Today, brains are in fashion, both in terms of research and beyond. Thanks to this fact, investment in neuroscience is also growing. However, passion for the brain also carries a number of risks, such as the spread of misconceptions or myths. One example of this is the idea about the percentage of our brains that we use.
The most widespread neuromyth in the world is that we only use ten percent of our brains. This idea has been put forward by educators, publicists, parapsychologists, etc.
However, a neuroscience professional would never make such a statement. Nevertheless, the underlying misconception is that, by means of certain techniques, the percentage of the brain we use can be increased, since the remaining 90 percent is free.
The idea that we only use ten percent of our brains has been wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein. In fact, its most probable origin dates back to investigations carried out in the 19th century. In these experiments which used electroencephalograms, scientists could only find cognitive functions for ten percent of the brain. Furthermore, they suggested that only that percentage of the brain was activated at any given time.
Neurons only make up 10 percent of the brain, while the rest is made up of glial cells. These cells have a different function to neurons. Today, we know that they’re also involved in learning processes.
The expansion of the myth
The idea that we only use ten percent of our brains has been spread by popular knowledge and by people who’ve simply shared that hypothesis. Many subdisciplines have also used this argument as a basis to defend their ideas.
For example, it’s relatively easy to find advertisers who use this myth in their ads. It can also be found in theories of neuromarketing. Also, followers of paranormal phenomena have appropriated this belief. In fact, they claim that the remaining percentage of the brain is what allows us, through training or extraordinary abilities, to perform telekinesis or have extrasensory experiences.
The real percentage of the brain that you use
Actually, you use 100 percent of your brain. It’s a really powerful organ, consuming 20 percent of the oxygen and 50 percent of the glucose that enters your body.
However, due to its functionality, it’s impossible for you to significantly activate all areas at the same time. In fact, if you were able to use 100 percent of its capacity simultaneously, the energy expenditure would leave you feeling extremely fatigued for the rest of the time.
Today, we know that, throughout the day, or even in just a few hours, you face challenges or solve tasks that make you use almost all the areas of your brain. Thanks to neuroimaging techniques, such as positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging, it’s been observed that, even when you sleep, all the areas of your brain are activated.
As a matter of fact, it’s only when the brain is severely damaged that some regions become ‘deactivated’, affecting performance and daily life. This phenomenon supports two ideas:
- Any injured area will compromise the functioning of some particular skill or function. That’s because our brains work in their entirety, not just a small percentage.
- The brain is so powerful that, when an area is damaged, it causes neurons to migrate to those regions which could mean that the damaged ability may even improve. For example, when an individual loses their hearing, areas associated with vision have been shown to recruit part of the unused auditory region of the cortex, thereby improving their ability to read lips.
Evidence that you use your whole brain
Next, we’ll review some evidence that supports the idea that you use your whole brain.
Magnetic resonance imaging
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has made it possible, in a non-invasive way, to investigate how the brain works. These tests make it clear that the brain is in operation all the time. In fact, researchers haven’t found any brain regions that don’t perform a function. In addition, a study of medical myths noted that “numerous types of brain imaging studies show that no area of the brain is completely silent or inactive”.
The consequences of damage to certain brain regions show how important every part of the brain is. Indeed, there’s not a single area of the brain that can be damaged without some kind of consequence.
Researchers have noted over the decades that our brains are larger than those of other animals, including our close relatives, the primates. We wouldn’t have developed such large brains if we were only using a small part of them.
How to improve brain power
There are different ways to improve brain function. Here are some:
Research suggests that certain micronutrients may play a role in brain health. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, can help protect against many chronic diseases and also promote a healthy brain.
Research has shown that physical exercise can reverse some of the unwanted effects of a sedentary lifestyle and can delay brain aging and degenerative pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. It also improves cognitive processes and memory, has analgesic and antidepressant effects, and even induces feelings of well-being.
One study found that exercise-induced improvements in cognitive functions were correlated with neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity, and neurotrophins in the hippocampus. Furthermore, it’s been found that exercise has a positive influence on the aging brains of sufferers of neurodegenerative disorders associated with cognitive decline.
Getting enough sleep
Studies claim that sleep improves memory recall, regulates metabolism, and reduces mental fatigue. Sleeping a minimum of seven hours daily appears to be necessary for adequate cognitive and behavioral function. In addition, good sleep not only decreases stress and depression but also prolongs alertness and memory recall (Eugene & Masiak, 2015).
Using the whole brain
Just because you’re unable to use 100 percent of your brain 100 percent of the time, it doesn’t mean that you can’t improve your abilities. In fact, thanks to brain neuroplasticity, you can strengthen connections or create new neural networks. Furthermore, with new learning, doing what you enjoy, and adopting healthy habits, not only can you use 100 percent of your brain, but you can also 100 percent take advantage of it.
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